The kids won’t stop screaming, your boss has been hounding you because you turned a report in late, and you owe the IRS thousands of dollars you don’t have. You’re seriously stressed out.
Stress is actually a normal part of life. At times, it serves a useful purpose. Stress can motivate you to get that promotion at work, or run the last mile of a marathon. But if you don’t get a handle on your stress and it becomes long-term, it can seriously interfere with your job, family life, and health. More than half of Americans say they fight with friends and loved ones because of stress, and more than 70% say they experience real physical and emotional symptoms from it.
Read on to learn why you get stressed out, and how that stress might be affecting your health.
Causes of Stress
Everyone has different stress triggers. Work stress tops the list, according to surveys. Forty percent of U.S. workers admit to experiencing office stress, and one-quarter say work is the biggest source of stress in their lives.
Causes of work stress include:
λ Being unhappy in your job
λ Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility
λ Working long hours
λ Having poor management, unclear expectations of your work, or no say in the decision-making process
λ Working under dangerous conditions
λ Being insecure about your chance for advancement or risk of termination
λ Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
λ Facing discrimination or harassment at work, especially if your company isn’t supportive
Life stresses can also have a big impact. Examples of life stresses are:
λ The death of a loved one
λ Loss of a job
λ Increase in financial obligations
λ Getting married
λ Moving to a new home
λ Chronic illness or injury
λ Emotional problems (depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, low self-esteem)
λ Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
λ Traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one
Sometimes the stress comes from inside, rather than outside. You can stress yourself out just by worrying about things. All of these factors can lead to stress:
λ Fear and uncertainty: When you regularly hear about the threat of terrorist attacks, global warming, and toxic chemicals on the news, it can cause you to feel stressed, especially because you feel like you have no control over those events. And even though disasters are typically very rare events, their vivid coverage in the media may make them seem as if they are more likely to occur than they really are. Fears can also hit closer to home, such as being worried that you won’t finish a project at work or won’t have enough money to pay your bills this month.
λ Attitudes and perceptions: How you view the world or a particular situation can determine whether it causes stress. For example, if your television set is stolen and you take the attitude, “It’s OK, my insurance company will pay for a new one,” you’ll be far less stressed than if you think, “My TV is gone and I’ll never get it back! What if the thieves come back to my house to steal again?” Similarly, people who feel like they’re doing a good job at work will be less stressed out by a big upcoming project than those who worry that they are incompetent.
λ Unrealistic expectations: No one is perfect. If you expect to do everything right all the time, you’re destined to feel stressed when things don’t go as expected.
λ Change: Any major life change can be stressful — even a happy event like a wedding or a job promotion. More unpleasant events, such as a divorce, major financial setback, or death in the family can be significant sources of stress.
Your stress level will differ based on your personality and how you respond to situations. Some people let everything roll off their back. To them, work stresses and life stresses are just minor bumps in the road. Others literally worry themselves sick.
Tips for Managing Stress
Now that you understand more about stress and the symptoms, try the following these 6 tips to unwind, de-stress, and get back in control of your emotional state:
1. Identify the sources of stress: Try to figure out what’s causing your stress symptoms. Maybe you are overextended (too many commitments) and feel fatigued and irritable. Once you identify the sources of stress, try to minimize these as much as possible.
2. Talk it out: Talk to a friend, family member, or therapist if your stress level is too high. Getting your feelings out without others judging you is crucial to good mental health.
3. Take time out: Before you reach your breaking point, take time out for solitude. Take time to nurture yourself, away from the cares and responsibilities of the world. Find time for inner strength and emotional healing.
4. Set limits: Never hesitate to say “no” before you take on too many commitments. Especially if you are balancing work and family, it’s important to prioritize. Saying “no” can help bring your stress to a manageable level and give you more control over your life.
5. Try exhaling: Breathing can measure and alter your psychological state, making a stressful moment increase or diminish in intensity. Often, people who are anxious or upset take shallow breaths and unconsciously hold them. By paying attention to your breathing, particularly exhaling during tense moments, you will feel more relaxed. Buy a bottle of inexpensive bubbles (in the toy section at most stores), and use it to learn how to exhale slowly. Breathing from your abdomen, blow through the bubble blower with a steady stream of breath. If you blow too hard or too softly, you won’t get any bubbles. But smooth, steady breaths will produce a nice flow of bubbles. Use this breathing technique (without the bubbles) when you are feeling stressed.
6. Exercise daily: Exercise is thought to increase the secretion of endorphins, naturally produced substances in the brain that induce feelings of peacefulness. Many studies show that exercise, along with the boosted endorphin levels, really does increase confidence and self-esteem and reduce tension. Exercise also acts as a displacement defense mechanism for those who are “stressed out.” What does that mean? If you’ve ever walked for several miles, you know how hard it is to think of your problems when your mind is focused on walking.
How Can Stress Affect Your Health?
The problem with stress is that it’s cumulative. In other words, if you don’t have a healthy way of responding to stress or counterbalancing the “fight or flight” response, constant exposure to stress hormones overloads the body.
Changes in levels of hormones produced by daily stress can hurt your health. When stress levels increase, it results in an overproduction of stress hormones that weaken the immune system. This can lead to physical and psychological problems.
Chronic, or long-term, stress often results in high anxiety, insomnia, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and can even dependency on drugs and alcohol (a self-medication solution that makes an already bad problem worse). Some studies show that the hormones associated with chronic stress are linked to increased fat in the abdomen. That, in turn, increases the risk of chronic and serious illness such as diabetes.
When Should I Seek Help for Stress?
When stress interrupts your life, causing sleep problems or making you feel anxious and out of control, talk with your primary health care professional. He or she might recommend a professional therapist who can offer support and give you some practical lifestyle tips in how to manage stress without letting it take over your life.
► Culled from WebMD.